Self-Care Retreat for July—Nourishment Through Family, Friends, and Pets

Warning: This post is long and filled with clichés and quotations. Cliches become clichés because they are so often true. Quotations are repeated again and again because they strike a chord within us. Many in each category kept filling my head as I wrote this post.

Way too much of life is hurrying and scurrying and saying (often whining) “I don’t have time for this” or “I don’t have time for that” and feeling like you can’t breathe. Being busy has become the new way of making us feel we’re important, that we have an impact. But often the truth is that busyness gives us a false sense of purpose and of course, there is a very fine line between actually getting a lot accomplished in a day and truly enjoying multiple activities, to being so busy that we feel crazy. And, sadly, busyness almost never equates to self care.

Two positive and always inspiring people in the gluten-free community, Cheryl (Gluten-Free Goodness) and Valerie (City I Life I Eats), are the co-hosts/creators of the Self-Care Retreat for July. This is a month of reflections on self-care on the many ways to nourish our minds, bodies and souls.   Wendy (Celiacs in the House), Iris (The Daily Dietribe), and I have joined in to help host the event. I am very honored, but not because I think I’m an expert in self care. No, quite the opposite, I’m someone who struggles daily with making the choice between punching out a major “to do” list (important business or busyness?) or taking critical time out for me. I’m never a complete success at self care, but I’m never a complete failure either. So I guess I do consider that success, not perfection (a word that I’ve come to realize is crippling), but success. But before we tackle all that, let’s talk a bit more about what this retreat entails. The themes for the event are:

  • movement
  • reflection (e.g., meditation and mindfulness)
  • food
  • family/friends/pets
  • creativity

Cheryl kicked off the event here. Valerie followed by sharing her experiences with movement, including how making a 21-day commitment made a big difference for her. Cheryl offered her history and current challenges with movement here. Then Cheryl addressed self-care through reflections. She followed up that post with “Things that make you go om—a comprehensive listing of meditation resources from both online (most free!) and brick and mortar sources in the Washington, D.C. area. Valerie initially “lost her voice” on the reflection topic, but thankfully found it and shared this post. Wendy shared some “tough to tackle,” powerful thoughts on nourishment through food, including her plan for action here. Cheryl also offered her own thoughts on food (she’s a feeder, I’m a feeder … are you a feeder?).  

Today, I’m addressing nourishment through family, friends, and pets, and I think all the previous topics discussed—movement, food, and reflection—come into play again in these three areas of our lives. Now I realize that when it comes to family, friends, and pets, some of you may be thinking that those three areas are precisely the reasons you don’t get enough self care. Maybe. But maybe not. Bear with me. 

The following quotes demonstrate why family, friends, and pets are so important. 

John Donne said, “No man is an island.” (Full quotation here.) 

Charles Baxton said, “The man who lives for himself is engaged in a very small business.” 

“In seeking happiness for others, you find it in yourself.”  ~ Unknown  

It is all too easy to magnify our own issues. Family, friends, and pets can help get us “outside” ourselves.  

Family—Of the three, I think family is the most complicated. Even the most loving family can be challenging at times. But many of us have very supportive families. They are often our refuge from what can be a crazy world. They rub our feet, scratch our backs, and encourage us to take care of ourselves. One thing I’ve been guilty of in the past is getting caught up in that “to do” list, taking care of everything under the sun when it comes to my family, and playing the mommy/wife martyr. And I did it even when others were trying to help me. Things had to be done my way … know what I mean? I was just reading my friend, Stephanie O’Dea’s, excellent new book—Totally Together: Shortcuts to an Organized Life (a delightful day-by-day way to get your act together)—and she recounts how she wouldn’t let a friend help her fold towels after her first daughter was born. She liked her towels folded in thirds and her friend was not doing it right. I actually had the same experience with my own mother right after my son was born. Mom was folding towels and putting them away and I was totally stressed out because she was not folding them the way I did. Stephanie and I can blame some of our stress on postpartum hormones and the tough job that is motherhood. Stephanie learned to accept help graciously, but, personally, I’ve still had issues with this type of thing over the years. Slowly, but surely I’m learning to “let go” and let family members help me. It doesn’t have to be my way; I don’t have to prove myself. 

If my family tells me to go do something and enjoy myself (like taking a walk, visiting a friend, taking a class) and they’ll handle dinner, chores, etc., now I do it. We had a birthday celebration with my family for my birthday last weekend. We were also celebrating my sister’s and niece’s birthdays that happened this past week. Because we were hosting, but also coming back from camping right before the party, my mom and sister brought everything that was needed. We only provided the screened porch setting, our own drinks, plus a pitcher of light pina coladas and a dozen chocolate beer muffins to share. In the past, I would have declined the offers of help and bought everything needed before we left for camping, plus made beverages and baked goods when we returned. In “letting go,” I was still a fine and gracious hostess and took much better care of myself in the process. 

Family also comes into play with reflections. Mr. GFE knows that I need my yoga time and/or a significant amount of quiet time. We allow each other that “space” without television or talking. We also share activities that allow meditation and time to quite the brain. People will think I’m nuts, but there are few places where I am more relaxed than on the back of our motorcycle cruising the country. Okay, maybe I didn’t feel relaxed when we went through Boston during “The Big Dig” years ago, but most of the time we travel on back roads and I feel this unbelievable sense of peace from being outdoors and watching the scenery roll by.  

When it comes to food, my family is truly skilled at feeding me gluten free safely. It took some education and willingness to learn on their part, but I’ve never gotten sick (i.e., glutened) from anything my family prepared. That’s saying a lot.  

Family comes into play with movement, too. Let’s just talk about summer and movement. Summer means camping on our mountain/river property. Camping is a wonderful combination of work and fun—loading, unloading, lifting, stretching, toting firewood, building fires, grilling, cooking in the fire, canoeing, and swimming. We marvel over the beauty of nature. We talk. We laugh. We go to sleep and get up by how our bodies feel, not by a clock. When we return home, we’re somewhat tired and always sorely needing a shower, but we’re very happy.


“The ornaments of a home are the friends who frequent it.” ~ Unknown 

“A cheerful friend is like a sunny day.” ~ Unknown 

“Count your life by Smiles not tears. Count your age by Friends … not years.” ~ Unknown  

“A true friend is the best possession.” ~ Unknown  

“Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver, the other gold.” ~ Unknown  

“It is a good thing to be rich and a good thing to be strong, but it is a better thing to be loved by many friends.” ~ Euripedes


Friends—Do I have to point out the value of friends when it comes to self care? The quotes above echo how I feel about my friends. My friends inspire, encourage, listen, prompt, push, share, and much more. Time with my friends always involves movement, reflection, and food. I have all different types of friends and equally different groups of friends. Each one fulfills a need and gives so much to me. There’s Judy who is my walking buddy each morning. (Judy is actually a longtime friend of an old friend who used to be my walking buddy. She moved away. Judy moved nearby.) We start our days at 6:45 am, keeping in step with each other even though we never stop talking. There are my longtime girlfriends who I meet on the spur of the moment for lunch, meet quarterly for dinner out (or host at my home), and go on a long trip with each year (we rented the sweet cottage shown below in Asheville, NC in June). We get away from our daily routines and reconnect with each other. There are new friends who have become very close and we’ll travel across counties or cross country to see each other. Together, we do morning yoga, walk a few miles round trip to the beach, or “hike” tons of city blocks versus hailing a cab. We share fancy, “oh my goodness” foods, or simple nourishing foods. We share all that’s on our minds and seek each other’s counsel. Friends are the ultimate nourishment for self care.


 “Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” ~ Anatole France

“The little furry buggers are just deep, deep wells you throw all your emotions into.” ~ Bruce Schimmel  

Pets–There are many who say that pets are just too much trouble, that they cost too much, etc. While there are certainly people who have lifestyles that don’t lend themselves to having pets (e.g., being away from home for long periods of time due to work and travel), others can greatly benefit from a relationship with a pet. 

A pet takes one’s focus off one’s self. Most of us have an amazing, and unfortunate, ability to magnify things … the snub from a “friend,” the importance of perfectly folded towels, our own failings. We’re human. Our non-human friends, our pets, love us unconditionally though. They always look at us with adoration and devotion. As the old saying goes, “I’d like to be the person my dog thinks I am.” 

We currently have one dog, one cat, two aquariums full of fish, and a chinchilla in our house. Previous family pets have included lizards, mice, and finches. Mr. GFE grew up with horses (and we won’t discuss those pets he kept in glass aquariums when he was in college). I’m going to focus on our dog, Sonny. Yes, I know I wrote a lot on Sonny just last week, but today I’m going to share the role that Sonny plays in my self care.

First, walking Sonny is a “several times a day” requirement, but it’s one that has surprisingly turned out to be a joy. It satisfies both movement and reflection for my self care. The movement part is obvious, but there’s more. I once read that taking one’s dog on a walk is the equivalent of a person going to a rock concert. In other words, pure excitement with all senses heightened. And the daily walks have become the same for me. I don’t even mind working up a sweat in the heat, walking in the rain (it’s only water and that’s what raincoats are made for, right?), or the cold late night winter outings where the moon is bright and I can see my breath. The birds serenade me on our early morning outings.  I see familiar, favorite flowers (brown-eyed Susans, Queen Anne’s Lace) and other plants I’ve never seen before, but am intrigued by. I relax, my breathing slows, my monkey mind settles down … and without any effort, I’m “reflecting” on life and it’s all good.  

Last, Sonny is “better than tv.” He entertains us even when he’s sleeping on the air-conditioning vent. It’s sort of like when you have a child and anything they do is the cutest or funniest you’ve ever seen. Case in point, we were all sitting around the campfire recently and Sonny—who had previously expressed no interest in getting up on any of our furniture—suddenly decided that the beach chair was the perfect fit for him. We all laughed out loud as he settled his long furry 70-pound body into the most comfortable position. I chuckled again just a moment ago when Mr. GFE told me that Sonny “loves me the most.” Laughter is a huge part of self care!  

Do you have thoughts or a post to share on Self-Care: Nourishing through Family, Friends, and Pets? We’d love to have you join us; see directions below. Please visit Iris (The Daily Dietribe) next Friday for her thoughts on self care through creativity.   

This virtual self-care retreat is to inspire you all to make July a month of reflecting on self-care and the many ways to nourish ourselves.   We encourage everyone to participate in this event in a way that feels appropriate to them, whether through personal reflection, journal or other self-care.  If you would like to share your experience with self-care, we would love to include you in the experience, whether you join us for one week or every week.  You can write generally about self-care, or focus on one of the themes (movement, food, family/friends/pets, creativity and meditation and mindfulness), or write every week about each of the themes.  We ask that you link back to this post so that more people can learn about this retreat, and leave a comment for the weekly theme host, too!  If you would like to be included in our  roundup, please email a link to your post, along with your name and blog name, to us at selfcareretreat at gmail dot com by July 30, 2011.  Feel free to use the badge in your posts.  Non-bloggers who would like to contribute, please email the full text to the same address and it will be included in the roundup.

Not just gf, but gfe!

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27 Responses to “Self-Care Retreat for July—Nourishment Through Family, Friends, and Pets”

  1. cheryl on July 22nd, 2011 10:56 pm

    Shirley, I love it! What a great post–more like a 3 in 1. Love the fact that you’ve gotten to learn how to say yes to help more and more. It’s one of the most wonderful gifts we can give ourselves and the people around us! I’m so not surprised to hear you have a walking buddy, but I didn’t know you were a motorcyclist! I would imagine when the roads are peaceful, there is an amazing sense of bonding with nature.
    So dog walks are like rock concerts, huh? I do remember that our dog growing up was beside herself around walking time. Our cats only get that excited when it’s time for dinner. And I think they’re much better than TV, too!
    Thanks so much for hosting, Shirley.

    • Shirley on July 24th, 2011 4:33 pm

      Hi Cheryl–Thanks so much, dear! LOL on the 3-in-1 factor … yes, I could have written so much more. ;-) Saying “yes” to others offers of help becomes a bit more complicated when it comes to gluten-free foods, etc., but there are plenty of times we still can say “yes.” And you’re right, the people who we say “yes” to really appreciate being able to help, too. :-)

      My husband does the driving on the motorcycle. I’m the one on the back with a water bottle, maps and directions (if we’re on multiple-day trip), and of course, my camera. The motorcycle rides are so much better than car trips because you’re experiencing all your senses without that glass “divider.” One does feel very close to nature and “the world”—I love it!

      Cats and dogs each have their own delightful character traits, as a species and as individuals, don’t they? ;-) I just got back from a walk with Sonny. He’s loving life again!

      Thanks for giving me the opportunity to host, Cheryl! I’ll be rereading my post and the others to remind me about my own self care and not getting too busy. I loved the quote you shared on meditation in your post … if you’re really busy, you need to do it more–so true! :-)


  2. Kalinda on July 23rd, 2011 12:53 am

    Lovely post Shirley.

    It’s true, the tiniest little things–like how to fold towels–can seem to matter so much, but really, who cares? If you do, you’re worrying about the wrong things.

    The river property looks lovely. What a beautiful picture.

    And Sonny is way too cute. My parents gave up an armchair to our lab long ago.

    • Shirley on July 24th, 2011 4:37 pm

      Hi Kalinda–Thank you … I really appreciate your feedback! Now with little things, I try to remember to ask myself if it will matter a year from now … there’s not much that passes that criteria. Seriously.

      We do love our river property. I caught that photo as the sun was fading. That’s our “baby dock” … the one we built most recently that hubby and I can carry by ourselves for ease of putting in and removal as the seasons change.

      Thanks so much regarding Sonny. We find him both adorable and occasionally incorrigible. ;-) I could see a chair going to one’s beloved pooch. Since he’s a hairy beast, I’m not giving up one at home unless he puts up a fuss, but for camping, he’s welcome to the beach chair. :-)


  3. Jeanette on July 23rd, 2011 11:11 am

    What a thoughtful post Shirley. Self-care is an area I can definitely improve on as I too get caught up in the everyday of trying to check off that to-do list. Your write-up definitely gives me pause to think about just being still to take time out for myself once in a while.

    • Shirley on July 24th, 2011 4:41 pm

      Hi Jeanette–Thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed my thoughts and found them helpful. I know that we are so much better parents, partners, friends, etc. if we get in some regular time for ourselves. I hope you can move that time further up on your list. :-)


  4. Maggie on July 23rd, 2011 3:57 pm

    Wow Shirley, this is great! You value so many of the same things I value. I love that about you. As a mom of two young kids I get a lot of my Maggie nourishment through my friends. My Mommy nourishment comes from my kiddies :) and other Moms. And my cute little pup (well, he’s seven and a half) is my running buddy and I love him dearly. I love your pics of Sonny. He’s sooo lucky and sooo cute! xo

    • Shirley on July 24th, 2011 4:47 pm

      Hi Maggie–Awww, thanks, dear! Sending love right back to you. :-) I’m glad you are getting that nourishment. Don’t you find that it really helps you thrive (or on some days, maybe just survive LOL) in your various roles? I experienced a little bit of melancholy reading about you getting your mom nourishment from your kids … that’s so different having a 23-year old now. ;-) So glad you have your pup as your running buddy. We don’t know exactly how old Sonny is since we got him as a rescue, but estimates are that he’s about 6 1/2 now and we still call him a pup, too. We’re lucky to have it and thanks on the compliments–we gladly accept them!


  5. Ricki on July 23rd, 2011 8:03 pm

    This is a great post, Shirley. You’ve captured so much that’s important in our lives, from old friends to our partners, laughter and (of course) our pets. It’s true that we can become too entangled in the petty things and forget what’s truly important. How great that you’ve learned to accept help from your family and enjoy yourself! And that Sonny is too, too cute (and 70 pounds?? I would never have guessed!).

    • Shirley on July 24th, 2011 4:57 pm

      Hi Ricki–I appreciate your comment very much! I have to remind myself to have such “grace” often, but when I do it’s pretty wonderful. :-) Thanks, too, regarding Sonny. We dog mums can never get enough of those compliments, right? ;-) Sonny was 63 lbs when we first got him and is actually right under 70 now (I rounded). He’s our second tri-color collie. I feed him exactly the recommended amount for his size. I’m thinking he might get a tad leaner when cooler weather comes again. For some reason, they seem to run much heavier than the sable and white collies we’ve had. Our last sable and white girl, Hayley, didn’t even weigh 50 lbs. We’ve always had girls before. Mr. GFE calls Sonny a “massive bull collie” … cracks me up every time!


  6. Kim (Cook IT Allergy Free) on July 23rd, 2011 10:41 pm

    I know you know that that this post is exactly what I needed just about now. What a beautiful way that you worded it! Thank you for making me smile as I think of our friendship and how it rejuvenates me just when I need it!
    And I had to laugh as you talked about Sonny and his new furniture adventures. Jake still entertains us, and he is 11 years old now. And holy moly! I did not even realize that Sonny is 70 pounds! It looks like he is the perfect size for that beach chair though. You may just have to set that one up in your living room!
    Huge hugs my friend!!

    • Shirley on July 24th, 2011 5:02 pm

      Oh, Kim, you’re so sweet! :-) Friends always seem to be there right when needed, don’t they? I know you’ve been a huge blessing to me in that regard, dear.

      Love that Jake still entertains you all. He’s a cutie! He was so quiet when we were there, and so well behaved. Sonny would have wanted non-stop attention from his guests. ;-) As I was just telling Ricki, Mr. GFE calls Sonny a “massive bull collie.” That cracks me up. Previously, we’ve only had girl collies and they were leaner, but our tricolor girl was the heaviest before Sonny. Tricolors are built heavier and have different fur from the sable and white collies it seems.

      Hugsssss back! xo,

  7. Valerie @ City|Life|Eats on July 24th, 2011 10:22 am

    Shirley – this is such a beautiful post. I have reread three times since Friday, because it captures so much from so many parts of our lives. Thank you for sharing so many aspects of your life and self-care with us and inspiring us all.

    • Shirley on July 24th, 2011 5:06 pm

      Hi Valerie–Wow, thank you, dear! I’m so glad that my words speak to you. I think the thing that’s most important to remember is that we’re all works in progress and that we must always work to balance the busyness with other parts of our lives (including finding time for ourselves). There’s never perfect balance, but we can make our lives more balanced. :-)


  8. Iris on July 24th, 2011 8:10 pm

    Shirley, I have to say, I think this was one of my favorite posts of yours of all time. I feel like I really got a glimpse into your inner world, and so much of what you said spoke to me. Especially the part of learning to let others help…I have so much trouble with that. I can totally relate to getting stressed out over someone folding towels the wrong way! But you’re right. Someone told me once that I try so hard to make things perfect that I lose sight of the reason for doing them in the first place: to have fun and enjoy time spent with friends. Thanks for reminding me that accepting help is not a sign of weakness, but rather a sign of strength and intelligence.

    • Shirley on July 25th, 2011 12:05 pm

      Hi Iris–Oh my goodness … your words mean so much to me—thank you! I was just writing from my heart and I guess that did provide a glimpse of my world. I think both sexes struggle with letting others help us. It’s that whole pride thing and saying “I did it all by myself” with usually the unstated addition of “and I did it my way.” But I don’t think any woman ever died with folks praising her and saying “she did it all herself, never got an ounce of help from anyone.” ;-) We’re so often quick to help others, but reluctant to take help. Most of us need to work on that. We can accomplish so much more when we work together and we’re less likely to go crazy in the process. LOL Thanks for sharing that quote … it’s very eye opening, isn’t it? You are a very strong and intelligent woman, Iris, so I’m sure you will make good headway in this area. The more things we “let go” of the easier it becomes. In fact, I just read where you’ve handed off all the yeast baking to Brittany on your joint cookbook endeavor … that’s accepting help (even if it’s “intolerance” related), so kudos to you! A more driven person would have still insisted on making the recipes and perhaps having another person (The Assistant?) do all the taste testing. ;-) Remember … we’re works in progress!


    • cheryl on July 28th, 2011 11:23 pm

      Love your comment, Iris! I have to say one of the biggest gifts of the months where I was unable to walk or stand was the necessity of asking for help…and how much of a gift that could be to myself and others, IF I let it be!

  9. Renee on July 24th, 2011 8:53 pm

    I hear ya on letting someone else fold towels and letting go. In the thirteen years my husband and I have been together I have worked to let go of certain things so that he can help me out and take some things off my plate. (I do sometimes refold the towels later, unfortunately.) And it is rare these days that I let him handle dinner…But, I do remind myself to let him do these things.

    As for pets, they make a huge difference in my life. My two boys get me up and moving around on a daily basis. How can you resist smiling from the pure joy when they get their harnesses on and go racing toward the front door?

    I am still working on the friends and family part of self-care. In the past few months I have been forcing myself to reach out to friends, new and old, because I know I need them. And my husband realizes I need it too and he has been encouraging me, thankfully. I just have to keep reminding myself though to make the effort, or I forget and just let time pass me by. In fact I just switched over to the other tab and did a search for how much a plane ticket back east would cost to go see some of those old friends…I am thinking I need to put that in the upcoming budget. :-) Thanks for the reminder.

    • Shirley on July 25th, 2011 12:16 pm

      Hi Renee–Thanks so much for sharing your experiences and perspective! I don’t think it’s necessarily wrong if I make most of our dinners or do the wash, etc. In our house, we have “areas of responsibility” or ARs as we call them. They fall where our strengths are, but if I’m slammed before we’re entertaining, I’m happy for Mr. GFE to vacuum and dust and I’m not going to criticize (I might want to, but I’ll just have another glass of wine LOL). As for the towels, my latest thing is rolling the towels to go in the linen closet. I tell you it’s so much easier that anyone can do it. They’re folded any which way and then rolled. Works beautifully. ;-)

      I agree on the pets! I’m imagining your two boys now ready for their walks! :-)

      The more we let friends and family into our lives, the better our lives can be. I’m so glad you started looking at plane tickets right away. Even btter, sign up for alerts on deals to your favorite destinations. I like and following sites like theirs and airlines that fly to the desired spots on Twitter and Facebook. Easy way to find some great deals. Usually these deals still allow enough time for some planning before departure, too. Lately, I’ve found I like the vacations that are planned a few weeks in advance more than the ones planned months in advance. ;-) Anyway, good for you for looking into this part of self care!


  10. Linda on July 28th, 2011 2:11 pm

    I feel like I have so much catching up to do after being away last week. It was wonderful family time, though.

    This is a terrific post, Shirley. I just have to chime in on the pets part. I love walking our dogs. I don’t do so well in the heat, but I don’t mind rain or cold. The only time I stay in is if it is really pouring or lightening (and then it’s just usually delayed) or if it is icy. I agree that pets are very entertaining and your statement about them being like kids and anything they do is the funniest, is spot on, especially with puppies.

    I enjoyed the picture you posted before with Sonny in the chair, but I didn’t realize it was his first time deciding to get on a piece of furniture. That is so funny!

    • Shirley on July 28th, 2011 6:53 pm

      Hi Linda–I’m so glad to hear you had such wonderful family time; that’s far more important than catching up on the blogs. As a blogger, you know that anything really good will resurface in some way later, right? ;-) In another post, a roundup event, etc., so you’ll be fine. :-)

      Thanks so much for the feedback and adding your experience with your dogs. It makes me smile thinking of you out with your dogs. Yes, we delay when needed, but we don’t forget. Sonny’s walks have been briefer in this heat. With his heavy coat, he can’t even take as much as we can. He got a little overheated one day last week with gung ho walker, Mr. GFE, so we’ve been really careful ever since.

      I know re: Sonny and that chair! He totally cracked us up! I wonder if part of it is that he feels like he can do almost whatever he wants when we’re camping. We believe he was really tightly controlled and disciplined before we got him, so much that he doesn’t do is just programmed into him. When we’re camping, he’s not on a leash (and has no need to be on one there) and just goes around as he pleases. He loves our tent and everyone else’s (when we have company) and thinks they are all just places for him to make a little nest if he can get inside. If he can’t get inside, he’ll lay on the carpet (Mr. GFE’s touch) at the front door. ;-) Oh, what would we do without them? We must love them while we have them and thank them for all they do for us. :-)


  11. cheryl on July 28th, 2011 11:24 pm

    Shirley, my self- care through connections post is up! It’s pretty much an ode to my furry dudes.

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